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Social Engineering

Last updated on April 18, 2022

Social Engineering makes use of psychological manipulation, as opposed to technical methods, as a method for gathering information.

Many cyber-attacks make use of social engineering attacks, no matter how sophisticated or severe the crime.

It is quite common for hackers to use clever tactics to trick their victims into divulging sensitive information and other valuable sources.

Similar to most cyberattacks, a social engineering attack is a multifaceted process, which is constantly changing. Presented here is an overview of the current state of social engineering, types of attacks to watch out for, as well as warning signs to avoid becoming a victim.

What is Social engineering?

As the name suggests, social engineering is the term referring to a wide range of harmful activities that are carried out by interacting with people. Often with the goal to gain unauthorized access to a system or place.

Social engineering attack involves the manipulation of individuals to persuade them to cooperate and provide unauthorized access to confidential information.

Some types of data that can be compromised are as follows:

  • Employee personal information – passwords or other data.
  • Credit card number
  • Information required to access their computer
  • Bank account information
  • Access codes
  • Phone records

The majority of cyber attackers possess excellent manipulative skills, yet not every cybercriminal is a technology manipulator, while others use human manipulation to approach their targets.

They are more inclined to employ social engineering to perform cyberattacks, which take advantage of errors made by humans.

Why Should You Care?

One aspect of social engineering that is particularly dangerous is the fact that it’s based on errors and weaknesses by humans, as opposed to operating system and software flaws.

A legitimate user’s mistakes are much more difficult to predict, so they are much more difficult to detect and prevent than those brought on by malware.

Examples of Social Engineering Attacks

As an example of social engineering attacks, a cyber attacker assumes the identity of an IT personnel and asks for login credentials. Using your credentials, the attacker will patch a security vulnerability.

As soon as you hand over the information, a malicious person now has full access to your account. There was even no need for them to hack into your email or computer to accomplish that — they were able to accomplish it without the trouble.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks

Virtually every cyberattack involves social engineering. A classic email scam, like those involving viruses, has a strong human element.

Most Social engineering attacks can negatively affect your digital life via mobile phones as well as desktop computers. On the other hand, you can also be threatened face-to-face. Multiple scams can be layered together to appear as one.

Some common social engineering tactics include the following:


By using your curiosity as bait, an attacker can entice you into divulging information about yourself. This strategy is employed by attackers who know that by offering something appealing, they will catch a lot of people.

As a rule, manipulation is used to exploit you by offering something free of exclusivity. The typical attack involves malware infection.

You can typically find these schemes on peer-to-peer websites that provide downloads of recent releases such as movies and music.

Popular Baiting Spots

Public places like libraries and parking lots are popular baiting spots.

Common Baiting Methods

The most common baiting methods are as follows:

  1. Email attachments that include information about freebies and bogus free software.
  2. USB drives are left in public spaces like libraries and parking lots.


The bait could be something as simple as a flash drive lying abandoned on a desk. Would you be curious to discover what’s inside?

Perhaps you are not aware of it, but you may be getting malicious code or ransomware on your computer. Baiting is indeed possible in digital form.

The same can be accomplished by an online form or attractive advertisement.


Social engineering techniques like phishing often involve the theft of user information including login information plus financial information.

The attack occurs when a malicious party, pretending to be a trustworthy party, tricks the recipient into opening an email.

In response to the email, the recipient is duped into opening a malicious link. As a result, the system is infected, followed by a ransomware attack that reveals sensitive information.

Ransomware attacks of this type can cause severe harm. On an individual level, this may involve fraudulent purchases, monetary theft, and identity theft. Two common phishing techniques are:

  1. Angler phishing: using a spoofed social media account to pose as a customer service representative.
  2. Spear phishing: a form of phishing that targets specific people or organizations.


The most popular phishing email examples include the following:

  • Unusual activity scam
  • Fake invoice scam
  • Paypal scam

Spear phishing

Unlike traditional phishing attacks, spear phishing is targeted at individual recipients or organizations.

After that, they customize their emails based on personal characteristics, job titles, and contact information from the target in order to disguise their attacks.

A spear-phishing attack involves a considerable amount of effort from the attacker, which is likely to take months or even longer to complete.

If performed skillfully, these attacks are more difficult to detect and more likely to succeed.


  • You get a notification or an automated call from your bank that your account has been compromised.
  • From an online store, you receive a mail informing you of a recent purchase. Often, the email includes a link that leads to a login form where scammers can access your login information.

Double barrel phishing

The double-barrel phishing technique entails sending a victim two emails to gain their trust and make them believe the emails are authentic.

Email 1

In the first email, nothing is wrong. So, it’s just a bait and switch. Nothing malicious is attached or linked to it and the recipient is not requested to respond to it.

Fraudsters may assume the identity of someone close to you, including the use of similar signatures and email addresses, making the scam seem more legitimate.

Something like “Hey, are you still in the office? I have a favor to ask”.

In this email, the goal is to gain the victim’s trust through a convincing scenario. Unfortunately, what follows is much worse.

Email 2

Phishers will delay a short period of time for their next email as a way of making the situation seem more natural.

Afterward, the follow-up email will arrive, and the attacker may respond, for instance:

“Hello, I would appreciate it if you could take a look at this report ASAP. Regards.”

In contrast to the first message, the attachment or link in this one will carry malware and lead you to malicious websites. This is the actual attacking part.


Alternatively known as piggybacking, tailgating involves attackers attempting to gain entry into restricted areas without being authenticated.

Tailgating is the practice of following a member of the security team into an area where there is a security restriction.

Whenever an authenticated individual walks through a door, a tailgating social engineer, for example, has the opportunity to grab the door just as it closes to cause catastrophic damage.

Companies with a large employee pool susceptible to staff turnover are more susceptible to these sorts of attacks.

An organization that has multiple entry points is particularly prone to this kind of attack. For example, an individual impersonating a deliveryman might try to gain access to a building via an entrance located in a parking lot that leads to the building.

Dumpster Diving

Cyberattacks that are known as “dumpster diving” rely on scrounging through the trash to find the victim’s personal information or to discover other vulnerabilities.

Dumpster diving is an espionage technique in which attackers rely on the axiom, ‘what’s garbage to one is gold to another at an unprecedented level.

It is possible for them to get access to personal data sufficient to hack into a network and steal identities.

Among the data that dumpster divers can get from searching through your trash are.

  1. Bank account or credit card number
  2. Contact information for relatives, colleagues, and clients
  3. An apparently harmless notepad that contains a security code and password
  4. Devices that store information on the go (USB), CDs and DVDs
  5. Business plans printed on paper

Watering Hole

Attacks that target users at so-called watering holes are targeted towards compromising users from a specific business industry or industry group through maliciously infecting the website they often use and leading the user to a fraudulent site.

An objective of a watering hole attack is to infect users’ machines with malware that allows them to access the network of the target company.

Is there anything I can do to prevent it?

Enterprise Web gateways that provide some detection capability to intercept unauthorized downloads matching a pre-existing signature or a reputation for bad behavior may aid in detecting and protecting against this type of threat.


An attacker using pretexting creates a convincing narrative, based on fabricated details, with the intent of stealing a victim’s personal data.

Establishing trust begins with a solid pretext.

A scammer who commits this type of attack commonly pretends that they need a specific piece of information from their target to prove they are who they claim to be.

A common instance of pretexting is impersonating the following individuals:

  • Financial institutions
  • Tax authorities
  • Colleagues
  • Police
  • Insurers


Vishing, otherwise known as voice phishing, involves phony phone calls. As these attacks are voice-based phishing, there is no technical component to them.

Through this type of social engineering scheme, scammers pose as official representatives of a financial institution to fool victims into disclosing sensitive credentials.

The goal of social engineering is to use creative sophisticated tactics in order to win people’s confidence and trust enough so they’ll give out confidential info.

Fraudulent practices, such as vishing, prey on human vulnerabilities to gather personal data.

Shoulder Surfing

A shoulder surfing attack takes place when a perpetrator physically views the screen of a device while viewing its keypad in order to get sensitive information.

Methods used in this practice are among those that require physical proximity to the target in order to be effective.

Things Used For Shoulder Surfing 

  • Optical devices
  • Binoculars
  • Micro cameras

End Goal

An end goal of the hack is to gain access to confidential information like usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information.


With public transit being crowded, attackers may be able to view the screens of other people’s devices and listen to their conversations. When this happens, it’s as if they’re watching over the target’s shoulder.

Quid Pro Quo

Social engineering gives hackers the upper hand in a quid pro quo attack. It can also be classified as a low-level hacking attack.

An attack that entails something-for-something is known as a quid pro quo attack.

This type of attack usually takes place in the form of a phone call from someone claiming to be a representative of your service provider or technical support team.

You will be offered some help, but it can only be helpful if you are struggling or facing some sort of technical problem.

Essentially, it’s a method of baiting, where the attacker offers an advantage in exchange for the victim’s cooperation or access to confidential information.

How Does A Social Engineering Attack Take Place?

There are two or more steps involved in social engineering attacks.

  1. In order to proceed with the attack, the attacker first explores the target in detail to gain the necessary information required for the attack to proceed successfully.
  2. A second strategy focuses on building trust with the target to motivate them to take steps against security procedures, like letting you in on sensitive data and allowing you access to key systems.

How to avoid being a victim of social engineering?

Social engineering attacks are incredibly challenging to defend against since they are specifically tailored to take exploiting human weaknesses. These weaknesses include a curious nature, a sense of authority, and the urge to lend a hand to our friends.

Attacks of this nature can be thwarted with security awareness training. Each employee of your company should be aware of social engineering scams and how to avoid them, as well as cognitive triggers fraudsters use to exploit people.

It’s possible to prevent social engineering attacks by following a few tips.

An effective social engineering and cybersecurity training program provides employees with the following skills:

  1. Determine the authenticity of an email by simply moving your mouse over the recipient’s name and comparing it to his email address. Moreover, make sure the email address is free of errors like spelling and punctuation errors.
  2. Never trust communications from people they haven’t asked for, especially from people they don’t know.
  3. Refrain from opening attachments in suspicious emails.
  4. Hover over a link in an email to ensure the link is valid before you click it.
  5. Confirm the identity of the other party by contacting them by phone or in-person – prior to disclosing confidential details.

To be secure, one must know who to trust and what to believe. Taking someone at their word is important, but you need to be aware when not to do so, as well as to recognize if you are talking to the person they say they are.

The same goes for online communications and web browsing – how can you be certain that the site you are using is reputable and will not steal any of your personal information.

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